REVIEW: ‘Warp and Weft’ – Marylebone Theatre, June 2024

 

Contemporary ballet triple bill Warp and Weft is a beautifully crafted programme of energetic, expressive and emotive narrative dance.

Featuring new works Iago v Othello by Aaron Thao, The Maids by Richard Bermange and By a Thread by Marika Brussel, this show breathes new life into existing stories. By the final exhale, audience members have been enveloped by envy, teased by a trio of service industry workers and empowered by radiantly strong women.

Warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads are essential to the process of weaving fabric. A warp thread is held taut, while a weft thread is permitted more freedom so that it can be intertwined with the foundational warp thread. Significantly, every fragile strand is necessary for the formation and integrity of the final piece of fabric. And the weaver is both an artist and a craftsperson as weaving requires both creativity and expertise.

Throughout Warp and Weft, the movers and makers weave their magic using this same sense of collaboration, vision and know-how. Artistry is seamlessly interlaced with athleticism, so efficiency and engagement are valued over meaningless excitement. Indeed, the intention is clearly (and gratifyingly) to draw audiences in with sincere storytelling and watchable dance. Danceable dance, in fact, as even the most impressive lifts and challenging motifs flow, which ensures there is no unravelling of movement or mood.

 

Warp and Weft dancer Michaela Marrable as Penelope in By A Thread.

 

Ho-Shia Aaron Thao’s Iago v Othello is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello, set in today’s competitive world of corporate law.

Iago (captivating Mayuko Suzuki) thoughtfully helps Othello (lively Isaac Bowry) on the nerve-wracking first day of their summer internship at Barbara’s law firm and friendship blossoms. Several years later, they are associates and it is time for promotions to partnership. Othello is promoted, but when he is invited to endorse a peer, he snubs loyal Iago and chooses Michael Cassio (debonair George Leatherby) instead. Cue Iago’s psychotic breakdown, the emergence of Envy (powerful Ryan Upton) and the beginning of the end for everyone Iago has encountered in her career so far.

The original music (composed by Marc DeSanctis and Ronald Corp, then recorded for the performance by Marc and Joe DeSanctis) features classical-inspired melodies as well as a fusion of funk and electronic styles. This lends itself well to the different relationships that develop – friendships, romances, flirtations, dalliances, double-crossings. When do these go-getters find time for lawyering?

Punchy choreography travels downstage with purpose and head-turning, hip-steered, hand-splayed panache. This ballet is all about ruthless ambition and the drama is dialled up high. As tension builds, trust is eroded and events spiral. Isolated moments of stillness are devilishly stark against the dynamism of adrenaline-charged movement.

When Iago is crushed by betrayal and eclipsed by Envy, the lighting design (by Ros Chase, who ably illuminates all three Warp and Weft ballets) casts a green glow and the dancers’ silhouettes loom on the walls either side of the proscenium arch. Costumed (by Erica Johnston) in green billowing trousers and green full-skirted dresses, respectively, Envy and Iago stylishly move through – and morph into – shadows. Solo segments and pas de deux passages eloquently embody the spirit of bitterness and destruction, setting up everyone’s downfalls in quick succession.

 

Warp and Weft dancers in Iago v Othello. Ryan Upton as Envy and Mayuko Suzuki as Iago.

 

After the interval, the power trip continues with Richard Bermange’s The Maids, based on Jean Genet’s 1947 play of the same name.

Three modern-day maids are the protagonists in this playful, pointe-shoe-free, palate cleanser, which takes place behind the scenes at a party. The guests have checked in their coats and the party is in full swing. The servers are on hand to cater to the guests’ every whim – in between trying on the unattended garments, lining up canisters of rat poison and losing themselves in fantasies about what they’d like to do to the rudest revellers.

The sound design (by George Webster) and music (by Dmitri Shostakovich, Fairuz and Electric Light Orchestra) create a relatable acoustic environment that includes ambient party noise and arrangements befitting bursts of light-hearted reverie. The three serving girls (Daisy Bishop, Anna Hirst and Maddie Smith) snap rubber gloves, shrug off or shimmy into items of clothing, roll through the motions of their roles and sidestep from one imagined scenario to the next.

Thanks to its shorter length, gently gliding motion and the mostly unseen bad behaviour of the guests, The Maids feels like an unfiltered surge of thoughts. A struggle between articulating suppressed feelings to release silenced screams and unintentionally externalising musings that should eternally remain internal. The audience is simultaneously cheering on the trio and considering creeping back out to join the guests in the real world, where social conventions are meant to keep everyone toeing the line.

Throughout, the three dancers throw each other – and the audience – questioning looks and gleeful glances. The denouement sees them offer determined stares, leaving it up to the audience to decide what happens next and who the real villains of this piece are.

 

Warp and Weft dancers Anna Hirst, Maddie Smith and Daisy Bishop in The Maids.

 

The closing yarn of Warp and Weft is Marika Brussel’s By a Thread, billed as ‘The Odyssey for our times’. This re-envisioning of an ancient tale sees Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, become visible as a strong individual in her own right while living through the uncertainty of war.

Athena (Mayuko Suzuki, elegant in a white robe-style dress with gold detailing) steps into the light and strategically positions pieces on a chessboard. Her movements stir Penelope (expressive and serenely confident Michaela Marrable, ready to take on the world in a red skirt then, later, red trousers). Penelope is accompanied by her female friends: Sophia (Romy Adair), Meli (Sasha Gologorskaya), Elena (Shannon Maynor), Chloe (Kynda Young) and Actoris (Ellie Young).

As goddess of wisdom and war, Athena’s role in this ballet is to watch over the women whose partners go to war. Of course, she also leads Odysseus (Ryan Upton) into battle – and becomes his conscience when it is time for him to return home. The star of this show is Penelope, though. Left to become a leader in her husband’s absence, she gracefully grows into her newfound position of power.

Strength is developed gradually over time. It requires passion, perseverance, persistence. The choreography here seems to embody this understanding, to recognise that true strength is delicate. There is a perpetual softness through the women’s hands, arms and upper backs, even as the footwork and partnering intensifies. When Penelope stands up to the suitors who pursue her, she expresses her anger through hands that shake with rage and summon resilience. Those same hands also hold tiny lights as she navigates through darkness to discovery. Supported by other women, and enlightened by the rational influence of Athena, Penelope finds herself and can finally see a future.

Danced to original music by Ryan Cockerham, By a Thread celebrates not only the power of women, but also the potential for peace if humanity can stop blindly drifting into conflict. During the call to war, when those conscripted are separated from their nearest and dearest, those left behind cover their eyes, not wanting to look. Years later, when conscripts and significant others are soon to be reunited, blindfolded soldiers come into view.

 

Warp and Weft dancers in By A Thread. Penelope (Michaela Marrable) fights off the suitors while Athena (Mayuko Suzuki) proudly watches.

 

Marylebone Theatre has 208 seats and it looks as if you would get a good view sitting anywhere in the auditorium. At times, the group formations in Iago v Othello and By a Thread seem slightly cramped. They span the full width of the stage with no periphery for breathing space. Nonetheless, this intimate venue ensures that cast and audience members alike are immersed in, and inspired by, the performance. And it is a real treat to see the dancers who perform in both of these very different ballets show their versatility.

Power is the common thread running through all three works in Warp and Weft, but so too is the notion of looking at things anew. Reimagined stories, told through dance, that leave audience members thinking about what they see and why. Asking themselves: Do I always see through benevolent eyes? Do I strive to see others’ perspectives? Do I see the beauty and opportunity in change?

This summer’s performances sold out, so move quickly next time these choreographers have stories to weave!

 

 

Running time: Approximately 2 hours, including an interval.

 

*Production photography by Amber Hunt (Photography by ASH).

 

 

Warp and Weft premiered at Marylebone Theatre on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 June 2024.

 

 

Dancers in Iago v Othello:

Mayuko Suzuki (‘Iago’), Ryan Upton (‘Envy’), Isaac Bowry (‘Othello’), Maeve Nolan (‘Desdemona’), Shannon Maynor (‘Barbara’, named partner in the law firm and Desdemona’s mother), George Leatherby (‘Michael Cassio’), Michaela Marrable (‘Bianca’), Jose Alves (‘Roderigo’), Ellie Young (‘Emilia’, Barabara’s assistant), Maddie Smith (‘Intern/Partner’), Johnny Randall (‘Intern/Partner’), Romy Adair (‘Intern/Partner’), Hayley Clark (‘Intern/Associate’), Sasha Gologorskaya (‘Intern/Associate’), Barbara Tosto (‘Intern/Associate’).

 

Dancers in The Maids:

Daisy Bishop (‘Maid’), Anna Hirst (‘Maid’), Maddie Smith (‘Maid’).

 

Dancers in By a Thread:

Mayuko Suzuki (‘Athena’/Odysseus’ Conscience), Michaela Marrable (‘Penelope’), Ryan Upton (‘Odysseus’), Tamara Hinson (‘Calypso’), Romy Adair (‘Sophia’), Sasha Gologorskaya (‘Meli’), Shannon Maynor (‘Elena’), Kynda Ng (‘Chloe’), Ellie Young (‘Actoris’), Isaac Bowry (‘Nico’/Suitor), George Leatherby (‘Peter’/Suitor), Johnny Randall (Suitor – original role created by Philip McDermott).

 

 

The Warp and Weft dancers rehearsed in venues across London. These include English National Ballet’s Mulryan Centre for Dance (as part of the ‘Shared Ground’ scheme), DanceWest London, Danceworks, East London Dance, The Place and West London School of Dance. The dancers also spent a week in residency at Royal Holloway, University of London.

 

 

Preview for Culture Whisper:

 

  • Screenshot of Culture Whisper preview of the Warp and Weft triple bill at Marylebone Theatre. Written by Georgina Butler and published on 3 June 2024.

 

 

Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.

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